The J/24 is the world’s most popular keelboat as measured by the number of hulls produced—over 5,200 since Rod Johnstone designed and built hull number one in the garage of his Stonington, Connecticut, home in 1975. The boat found an early home in the Caribbean. For example, Dick Johnson and Walter Fischer’s The Sting, Tom Kelly’s For Sail, and John Foster and Rudy Thompson’s Antidote were all top yachts in the Rolex Cup Regatta from 1978 through 1981.
A trend over the years toward bigger yachts, sport boats such as the Melges 24s, and most recently the easy-sailing IC24 has stolen thunder from the J/24-following in the Caribbean. But now, there is a rebound interest underway once again in this design, including the island of St. Lucia where there are six J/24s.
“For such a small island and sailing population, it’s pretty good that we’ve now got up to six boats. This allows good fleet racing and an ideal number for match racing events such as our St. Lucia BMW J/24 Invitational November 7 to 9,” says Michael Green.
“We are inviting everyone from the Caribbean from Puerto Rico down to Trinidad & Tobago,” says two-time Olympian Green. “We already have four teams from Trinidad, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Barbados who are on board and the official invite has just gone out.”
The St. Lucia BMW J/24 Invitational will kick-off with a practice race the afternoon of November 7th. The main event is set for November 8 and 9, with racing wrapping up the last day in time for teams to fly home.
“There will be an entrance fee and boat damage deposit for teams of four, sailing with main and jib only on short windward leeward courses,” Green says. “We hope in 2009 to change this into a fully-fledged match racing event with judges and a graded event for points.”
There’s as much fun planned off the water as on. For example, a driver in a BMW car will meet all teams at the airport. Teams will all be housed at ‘The Landings’, a new five star marina development in Rodney Bay. BMW will be running a product show at the hotel throughout the regatta, allowing sailors to test drive a range of cars and SUVs.
The international participation anticipated for the event reflects the J/24’s following, from one end of the Caribbean to the other. “The J/24 has always been popular in Puerto Rico”, says Efrain “Fraito" Lugo, who has long campaigned his Orion. “We have about 10 boats actively sailing in regattas like the Discover the Caribbean Series. This number will increase, as we get closer to the Central American & Caribbean Games in 2010. Our plan is to campaign the IC24 in the Caribbean spring regattas, then switch to training in the J/24.”
Avid sailor Peter Hoad introduced the first J/24 to Barbados in 2005. Hoad brought Jabulani to race with the local handicap fleets. “Racing in St. Lucia and Bequia on a Surprise 21, I found it hard to beat them (J/24s). So, when I went for my own boats, the J/24 was the only choice, especially with more boats coming south all the time,” he says.
Hoad adds, “To gain interest in the boat, I would invite fellow Bajans to sail with me overseas. In a year, we went from two boats to nine with talk of another four on the way.”
The Barbados J/24 Club was formed in mid-2007. “The aims of the Club are the administration and promotion of J/24 sailing in Barbados, the establishment of the Barbados J/24 racing rules, which are essentially the International J/24 rules, with minor modifications to suit local conditions,” says Gus Reader, an active J/24 sailor. “The appeal of these boats is their relative low cost, low maintenance, close quarters and high intensity racing. This is what has really created resurgence in the sport of sailing in this country.”
Reader adds, “These boats are growing so rapidly in the Southern Caribbean that there were 11 entries at the 2008 Bequia Easter Regatta, even though three boats from Barbados couldn’t make it due to bad weather.”
Last season, Trinidad’s fleet of J/24s jumped from two to three. “The owners of the J/24’s are hoping that, with the new popularity of the boat in the Caribbean, one or two J/24’s might be added to the Trinidad fleet next year so that they will be able to sail as a one design class instead of competing on handicap,” says Esther van Santen, senior administrative coach for the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association and Youth Sailing School.
Beyond this event, Barbados’ Reader says, “Our club is actively working with J/24 sailors from the region to establish a set of Southern Caribbean J/24 Racing Rules with the aim of establishing and promoting a Southern Caribbean racing circuit.”